Killingly grappling with special ed. costs

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Mar. 11, 2013
Killingly must pay for $1.4 million in supplemental special education costs. Photo by D. Coffey.
Killingly must pay for $1.4 million in supplemental special education costs. Photo by D. Coffey.

The Killingly Board of Education is requesting $1.4 million in supplemental appropriations for special education services for fiscal year 2013. The request for additional funds is due to an increased outplacement of students in both local and agency placements, according to Superintendent of Schools Kevin Farr.

The reason for the request was the unexpected outplacement of 10 students between October and December. “That is a budget buster,” Farr said. “We're having increased outplacement of students both in local placement and agency placement.”

Connecticut state law requires that each town pay for special education services required by its students. The mandate isn't fully funded by the state. Before the state reimburses any money, a town must pay four times the per-pupil expenditure. That figure is approximately $62,402 in Killingly. Once the town goes over that amount, the state will reimburse 77 percent of the difference.

“We not only have to absorb that first $62,000, but also the 23 percent left over that the state doesn't pay for,” said BOE member Hoween Flexer. “We're absorbing more costs than we are supposed to. That's really where the issue comes in.”

Farr and Manager of Business Affairs Brian O'Connell have been working on plans to mitigate future special education cost overruns. Those plans include three new special education programs that Farr believes could save the town money. Those programs would include an Autism Spectrum Diagnosis Program and Transitional Support Program at the intermediate school, and a Transitional Program at the high school. Farr believes these programs would not only bring back many outplaced students but would provide potential savings in the future. “If we can spend money to bring these students back into Killingly, we could save well over a million dollars a year, as opposed to asking the town for more money,” he said.

Farr has shared his concerns with state Rep. Mae Flexer (D-44), state Rep. Danny Rovero (D-51) and state Sen. Don Williams (D-29). “The burden of proof in Connecticut is on the school system for showing they can't meet the needs of special ed. students,” he said. “At the federal level, the burden of proof is on the parents. They have to show the school system is not meeting the needs of their child. What I've asked the legislators to do is roll back the Connecticut law to the federal level.”

Farr has proposed programs that would provide services many special needs students require in the district. The autism program would cost approximately $150,000 to staff, the transitional support program at KIS would cost another $150,000, and a transitional support program at the high school would cost approximately $280,000. According to Farr, the programs would provide $622,000 in guaranteed savings to the town, with the potential of an additional $524,000 in savings.

“I'm a realist,” said Farr. “I understand that these kinds of costs going forward are budget busters for the town. That's why I'm trying to do as much as I can with my staff to find ways to spend money to save money. I want these kids to get the best education. I would rather we tried to educate as many at home as we can so they can be with their peers and teachers and community.”

This marks the fourth time in five years that supplemental special education appropriations have been requested from the Killingly Board of Education. In 2009, $604,639 was requested; in 2010, $921,794 was requested; in 2012, $500,000 was requested. The board fully reimbursed the town for supplemental aid given in 2009, but wasn't able to fully reimburse supplemental funds received in 2010 and 2012.

Republican Committee Chair Tammy Wakefield would like to see more cuts in the BOE budget before the town hands over the supplemental appropriations money. “I understand there are unfunded mandates which are incredibly frustrating, particularly in this economic climate,” she said. “At the same time, we have to be thinking about our future. Paying out $1.4 million with no promise of getting a significant amount of it back isn't good.”

According to Wakefield, 85 percent of property taxes go to funding the school budget. She'd like to see substantial cuts before dipping into the general fund. “Does that mean eliminating field trips? Would it impact sports? Sure it could,” she said. She would like to see it go to a referendum, but that would be an extra cost to the town. “I'd like everybody to have the opportunity to weigh in on it,” she said. “Ultimately, the fiscal stability of the town is in balance. If we pay $1.4 million, we're hamstringing ourselves for this year's budget and next year's.”

For more information on the budget and proposed programs, go to www.killinglyschools.org, and click on District Home, 2013-2014 budget presentation.


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